Yellow mosaic virus infestation, falling prices affect farmers
It is the peak season for bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) in Thopramkudy and vast green pandals of bitter gourd vines dot this village. However, prospects are not bright for bitter gourd growers as average price for the crop has dropped and yellow mosaic disease has infected the plants.
Vellanal Binoy George, who has two acres of land with bitter gourd pandals, harvests the vegetable twice a week and reaps 1,000 kilogram of the produce from one row.
He said the average price per kilogram was just Rs.16. It was Rs.25 during the peak season last year.
“A large amount of money has to be spent for erecting the pandals, in addition to the cost of pesticides, fertilisers, labour and transportation. When the price falls below Rs.20, farmers incur heavy losses,” he said.
Farmers work almost the whole day to cultivate the crop and also take efforts to keep pests attacks and virus diseases at bay. However, only produce of the best quality gets procured in wholesale markets. Even produce that has been infected by a minor insect attack at the initial stage do not graded, he said.
Like all farmers, Mr. George sells vegetables at the Vegetables and Fruits Promotion Council, Keralam (VFPCK) Swaysraya Karshaka Samithy at Thopramkudy town.
Farmers like Sabu Kuriakose said they started cultivating bitter gourd in paddy fields due to shortage of labour and frequent losses.
Many farmers turned to bitter gourd cultivation after they found the soil congenial and capable of producing a high yield. Shaji Thomas Kizhakkethalackal abandoned bitter gourd cultivation on his farm after the crop was hit by a yellow mosaic attack. He said he noticed the disease only after it had infected the crop. He destroyed the affected vine and buried it in a pit after experts from the Krishi Bhavan advised him to do so. However, Mr. Thomas did not receive any compensation for the loss incurred.
“I will not cultivate bitter gourd in the coming season. I will let my land lie fallow as I did the last season after the disease infected the crop,” he said.
According to Tomy Kurien, who cultivated beans as an inter crop to offset the threat of low prices and yellow mosaic disease, cultivating the crop in the upland area is more costly as bitter gourd vines need routine irrigation from its initial growth period till the maturity period. Bitter gourd is mainly cultivated in Vathikudy, Konnathady, Rajamudy, Kamakshy, Melechinnar, Perinjamkutty, Rajakkad, Rajakumari and Adimaly.
As per the VFPCK estimate, the total production of bitter gourd this season would be around 2,500 tonnes. High fluctuation in prices was cause of concern. “Farmers have had to sell the produce at a price as low as Rs.12,” said VFPCK district manager Sajimon Joseph. He said one reason for the high incidence of yellow mosaic disease was that farmers used seeds which were susceptible to the disease. Scientists from Kerala Agriculture University had recently visited six grama panchayats to study the disease. They advised farmers to take steps to prevent the disease from infesting the crop.